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Quick Takes: News From Israel You May Have Missed

The Palestinians who took over the Jewish greenhouses in the Gaza Strip when Israel withdrew from the area now are asking expelled Jewish farmers for advice, after reportedly failing to reproduce the region’s famous insect-free vegetables.

Prior to Israel’s August withdrawal, the residents of Gaza’s Gush Katif Jewish communities ran greenhouses known for producing high-quality insect-free vegetables.

Earlier this month, the Palestinians now running the greenhouses reportedly told the Israeli-Palestinian Economic Cooperation Fund they failed in their efforts to grow bug-free produce. Now the Palestinian owners have asked the United States Agency for International Development, which has been involved in reconstruction efforts in Gaza, to hire former Jewish Gaza greenhouse owners as consultants for their declining vegetable businesses.

Asked if she would serve as a consultant for the new Palestinian owners of her former greenhouses, pioneer farmer Anita Tucker said, “Probably not. We see the terror coming out of Gaza, coming out of the neighborhood I used to live in, and it’s just horrible. Hamas has taken over different parts of Gush Katif and are firing rockets into Israel. I am not saying the Palestinian farmers are involved, but it seems they are not doing enough to stop the terror.”

* * * *

With Christmas services in Bethlehem drawing far fewer tourists than in the 1990′s and the town’s Christian population now at an all-time low, many world leaders and hundreds of major media outlets this week blamed Israel for Bethlehem’s decline – often citing false information – while a simple talk with the town’s residents reveals a drastically different picture. They say Muslim persecution has been keeping Christians away.

Religious figures took the occasion of Bethlehem’s Christmas evening mass to blame Israel’s recently constructed security fence in the area for Christian woes. A sampling of American media coverage of this past weekend’s festivities seems to find Israel’s fence mostly at fault for the decline in Christian living conditions and population figures. They report the fence collapsed Bethlehem’s economy, prompting Christians to flee.

But contrary to the reports, Bethlehem is not encircled by a wall. A fence exists only where the Bethlehem area interfaces with Jerusalem, and only a small segment of the fence is a concrete wall, which Israel says is meant to prevent gunmen from shooting at Israeli motorists. The fence was constructed in 2002. Bethlehem’s Christian population – once 90 percent, now 20 percent – drastically declined seven years earlier, starting in 1995 when the Palestinian Authority took control of the city.

Local Christians, most afraid to provide their names for publication, cite a steady stream of persecution and abuses by Muslims.

“All this talk about Israel driving Christians out and causing pain is nonsense,” a Bethlehem Christian community leader said. “You want to know what is at play here, just come throughout the year and see the intimidation from the Muslims. They have burned down our stores, built mosques in front of our churches, stolen our eal estate and took away our rights. Women have been raped and abducted. So don’t tell me about Israel. It’s the Muslims.”

An aide to Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah who asked that his name be withheld said the PA has been appropriating lands of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem and building mosques on the formerly Christian land. He said he is aware of several cases in which Christian women were raped and murdered, but the alleged criminals were not arrested. He also cited recent violent Muslim riots against Christians.

* * * *

A popular Arab television network is lobbying for a deal in which Marwan Barghouti, a convicted murderer and founder of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, who is running in upcoming Palestinian elections, would be freed from Israeli prison in exchange for the U.S. release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard is on record as opposed to the possibility of being released from prison in a deal that would also release Barghouti, whom he refers to as “a mass murderer of Jews.”

Officially, Israel has said it is opposed to releasing Barghouti, but several Israeli officials have said Sharon might free the senior terrorist at some point.

Barghouti himself has said he is confident he will be released soon. In an interview this past summer with Israel’s leading newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, Barghouti, speaking from his prison cell, boasted, “By the end of this year, I will be out of here.”

* * * *

Adding to the number of terror organizations now operating in the Gaza Strip after Israel withdrew from the area this past summer, a captured terrorist told Israeli interrogators that the Iran- and Syria-backed Hizbullah militia maintains a cell in Gaza that directs and finances terror operations against Israelis.

Security officials said the terrorist was one of many recently arrested who have detailed Hizbullah’s backing of Palestinian terrorism from Gaza.

The latest information comes as the Lebanese government continues refusing to disarm Hizbullah in spite of a United Nations resolution calling for the disbandment of all armed groups in Lebanon.

Lebanese leader Walid Jumblatt told WND Hizbullah is needed to “counter Israeli threats,” and said he supports continued arming of the terror group.

Aaron Klein is Jerusalem bureau chief for WorldNetDaily.com. He is a co-host of ABC Radio’s nationally syndicated John Batchelor Show and can be heard regularly on American radio.

About the Author: Aaron Klein is a New York Times bestselling author and senior reporter for WND.com. He is also host of an investigative radio program on New York's 970 AM Radio on Sundays from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern. His website is KleinOnline.com.


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